Leftridge: Ween Calls it Quits, Leaving Trail of Sad Stoners in Their Wake

Last year, seminal 80’s/90’s pop-rock superstars REM announced that they were splitting it up after nearly three decades of making music. Some were distraught. Others wavered between “eh, what are you gonna do? They had a good run,” and “who cares?” Most people, however, said, “they were still a band? Weird.

On Tuesday, odd-rock duo Ween announced that THEY were splitting up after 25 years of making music, and most people said, “who?” And while calloused and slightly sad, that response felt just about right– an indelicate testament to a couple of underrated musical geniuses.

For most people, their only exposure to Ween stemmed from one of a few places:

An appearance in 1994’s moderately funny SNL-skit-turned-feature-length-abortion It’s Pat.

Beavis and Butthead’s critique of their only minor hit, “Push th’ Little Daisies,” a bitterly joyful ode to wishing death upon someone you used to love.

 “Voodoo Lady” a track about, well, a voodoo lady, that was featured in the movies Road Trip and Dude, Where’s My Car?

Ocean Man,” from 1997’s brilliant, nautically themed record The Mollusk that was featured in the Spongebob Squarepants movie and in a 2003 Honda Civic commercial.

Those minor instances—with, perhaps, a few others that I may be forgetting—regrettably sum up Ween’s lack of success.

For me, however, Ween was so much more.

Music is often made of the moments we attach to it. Though scientifically nothing causes more sensory association than smell, I’ve gotta figure sound—music, specifically—isn’t far behind.

Ween is sitting in the parking lot of the old, abandoned Venture store smoking cheap weed out of a pop can while Pure Guava plays through the shitty speakers of your friend’s second-hand Oldsmobile.

Ween is driving with your friends to the lake on a sticky night during summer vacation, the 12-pack of pilfered Busch Light cans slowly warming in the backseat, rendering an already awful libation nearly undrinkable.

Ween is existentialism, and chaos, and art, maybe with a dusting of light brain damage caused by huffing VCR head-cleaner.
But mostly, it’s about being young and irresponsible, an insanity borne of youth. 

“Brothers” Dean and Gene Ween (Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman, respectively) started the band in 1984 in tiny New Hope, Pennsylvania, after meeting in an 8th grade typing class.  Influenced by an early 80’s “DIY punk ethos,” they began recording crude cassette tapes of their spastic music. By 1989, they’d been signed to a label and released their 26-track, debut epic, GodWeenSatan: The Oneness. The music—like everything they did—was eclectic and offbeat, drawing early comparisons to similarly unclassifiable artists.

Unlike Frank Zappa, however, Ween never took themselves too serious as “artistes.” Void of pretention, they let their music speak for itself. And their catalogue—spanning 11 studio albums, 6 live records and countless singles, b-sides and online-only releases—spoke volumes.

From the soul-tinged beauty of “Sprit of ’76” from 1994’s Chocolate and Cheese, to the maniacal, Motorhead inspired cock-rock of “It’s Gonna be a Long Night,” from 2000’s Quebec, Ween seamlessly leapt from genre to genre in the span of 3 minute intervals, more ADHD than AC/DC.

Unsurprisingly, they succeeded stylistically at everything they tried. It wasn’t that the music was simplistic—it wasn’t—it was that they (along with their mostly stable touring band and regular recording partners) were REALLY fucking great musicians. Dean shred on guitar like Hendrix on Ritalin; Gene hit high-notes capable of making Prince blush.

 Unfortunately, drugs and frantic live shows took their inevitable toll, as they are wont to do, and Freeman (Gene) eventually hit a wall, checking himself into rehab last year to deal with lingering substance abuse issues. A few weeks ago, he released his first solo album, Marvelous Clouds, and on Tuesday, told Rolling Stone, “For me it’s a closed book. In life sometimes, in the universe, you have to close some doors to have others open.”

In classic, erratic Ween fashion, Melchiondo apparently had no idea.

If this does spell the end, that’s too bad. Though they hadn’t released an album since 2007’s La Cucaracha, and it seemed unlikely that they’d ever top their early work, I’m betting they still had some magic to share. Their live shows—ridiculously long-winded pageantries of bliss and excess—were amazing. It would be a crying shame to deprive the world of such brilliance. 

Here’s to you, Ween, for making the world a weirder, better place.

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9 Responses to Leftridge: Ween Calls it Quits, Leaving Trail of Sad Stoners in Their Wake

  1. balbonis moleskine says:

    the sun comes up and Im all washed out…
    This was actually a band that lost its mojo when they went clean. Live Highlight was a 3.5 hour set at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia with Gener tripping out on mushrooms and debuting Stroker Ace live.

    Lowlight was probably the recent Crossroads show where they played an uninspired 90 minute greatest-hits set after Gene’s rehab.

    It was a great run for a band that made music their way. Ween was uncategorizable, they were just Ween.

    1997’s The Mollusk probably stands as one of the best 50 albums of the last 25 years.

    Maybe we haven’t heard the last of the boys. They were too influential to not play a few one-offs over the next decade.

  2. Leftridge says:

    Great Perspective
    Very good points, and you may be right about the one-off thing. Festivals are a magnet for reunions these days.

    Have you heard Gene’s recent solo effort? I have not, but everything I’ve heard pegs it as supremely disappointing (not that I find this all that surprising).

  3. kcfred says:

    The best music ever was done my musicians who were so fucked up they couldn’t breathe.
    Aerosmith’s first four albums stand up against just about anyones. Talk about a band who lost their mojo when they cleaned up. There were so many drugs inside Clapton and Duane Allman when they did “Layla”, that George Harrison refused a chance to play on it. “Too many needles” he once said.
    Clapton has done little of note since he’s been clean.
    I wonder why that is. The drugs “spawn” creativity?

  4. Leftridge says:

    Good Question…
    …that I’m not able to answer.

    I think that naturally creative people have a hard time shutting their brain off. Intoxicants help stem that avalanche of brain-flow to a degree, and instill within the creator a sense of peace and normalcy.

    Another school of thought would probably say that certain drugs open doors of perception

  5. mike says:

    I have also noticed that many artists do great work when going through a bad relationship or personal tragedy in their lives so I think there is something to what you said about the turmoil.

  6. Merle Tagladucci says:

    Drugs or not, musicians tend to lose their edge once they hit their mid-late 30s. Combine that with going clean and the bottom drops out on some guys. Although David Crosby said when he got clean after prison he was flooded with creativity.

    Most bands and singers do their best work early in their careers, and that transcends drug use. The passion, or at least the funnel of creativity, tends to subside after the first 2-3 albums. Not always, but usually. Maybe the older musicians get, the more self-aware they become, and that makes it harder to get back to that place in their mind where they used to be able to go when they were younger…where those great songs and ideas seemed to flow. When someone is good though, the talent is there from the start whether they’re getting high or not. The drugs just send it down a different path and spawn new ideas. George Carlin used to get high all the time…when he got older he said he’d just take one puff and it was like magic, he’d sit down at the typewriter and just start cranking out material.

  7. Leftridge says:

    @ mike– Absolutely. History is littered with examples of this sort of thing.

    @ Merle– Great point about the age thing, as well. A very select few– the Stones, Dylan, Springsteen– are meant to do it into their later years, and others are not. The only person who is actively putting out records– over the age of 60– that I absolutely cannot miss is Tom Waits. He’s still evolving, I think, whereas most other active artists his age are playing it safe.

  8. the dude says:

    old ween was awesome
    All good things must come to an end, you don’t want to be prancing around stage in leather pants in your sixties.
    Rod Sewart and the Stones remind me of this fact.

  9. RBA says:

    Mutilated Lips!
    Best Ween song ever!

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